Friday, 8 July 2011

Is Murdoch's influence in British politics coming to an end?

The News of the World phone hacking scandal in the UK has literally exploded this week, with fresh allegations that the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper hacked into the phones of murder victims, victims of the 7/7 terrorism attacks, relatives of dead soldiers and detectives investigating cases. Late yesterday it was announced that the 160-year-old paper will shut down as a result of the scandal, news that sent shock waves through Britain.

The allegations of bribing police officials and hacking into phones began several years ago, but the latest revelations are so distasteful that it seems to have given British politicians the resolve to publicly denounce Murdoch, something they never dared to do before. At the centre of the scandal is Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of News of the World at the time of the phone hacking but has since risen to become chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's global media empire News Corp. The company, which also owns Fox News and papers such as the New York Post in the US, controls a vast array of British tabloid papers and has long been known in the UK as a political power broker. Murdoch controls British politics, it is claimed, by threatening to use his papers to destroy any politician that doesn't give in to his demands.

But Murdopch's influence over British politics seemed to come to a climactic end this week, as one after another members of the British Parliament took to the floor and denounced not only News Corp, but also the fact that the parliament for so long has been bullied by the company. Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith said News Corp has "systematically corrupted the police and in my view has gelded this Parliament, to our shame.” Labour MP Chris Bryant said the hacking was symptomatic of the way News Corp operates around the world.
“These are not just the amoral actions of some lone private investigator tied to a rogue News of the World, they are the immoral and almost certainly criminal deeds of an organisation that was appallingly led and had completely lost sight of any idea of decency or shared humanity."
The allegations have even ensnared prime minister David Cameron's communications director Andy Coulson, who was formerly an editor at News of the World (a fact that shows the extent of the connections between tabloid journalists and the British political class). In January Coulson was forced to resign over the allegations that he was involved in the phone hacking. This morning Coulson was arrested, along with an unnamed former senior journalist at the paper.

But the biggest implication for this will be in how it affects News Corp's bid to take over British cable news station Sky News, along with the rest of the BSkyB company. Right now News Corp holds a non-controlling stake in the company, and they want to buy it outright. But the government has held up the deal, over concerns about how News Corp would affect the journalism of Sky News, as well as other concerns. After this scandal, it now seems difficult to imagine that the government will approve the deal. Shares in News Corp were sent tumbling yesterday as investors panicked over the fate of the deal.

So what will all this mean for British politics? For decades courting Murdoch's favour has been a prerequisite for winning an election in the UK. In the 1980's Margaret Thatcher is said to have credited her victory to the fact that she had his support. Tony Blair formed an alliance with the Australian media baron, and Murdoch's support was pivotal to Labour's political success. And when Murdoch switched his allegiance from Labour to the Tories two years ago, the cards were dealt for Gordon Brown. Murdoch spent the year leading up to last year's election finding new and ever inventive ways to attack Brown and praise Cameron on the front pages of his many British tabloid papers.

But this seems to have shattered this week. As The Guardian's parliament correspondent wrote Wednesday, "MPs feel, like political prisoners after a tyrant has been condemned to death by a people’s tribunal, that they are at last free.”


Chris said...

Buy NewsCorp shares now, he'll be back!

Frank said...

I'm an eternal optimist but I really think here we're seeing the end of an era. The media landscape is changing fast with newspapers in paper form on the verge of extinction and people having access to a plethora of different news sources. So I'm hopeful that in future, it will be much harder for one man to hold so much sway over the political class in the way Murdoch was able to do for decades. I'm not saying we've seen the back of him but I think he'll never have the influence he had and my god, that alone is a reason to crack open the bubbly.